Ninety-Six Hours – The Aftermath

by Angie

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He was about eight that summer. Maude had left him yet again at a relative’s house. The grand old Civil War mansion had definitely seen better days. Ezra could have cared less. There were several children in the household and they had welcomed him. Like a litter of puppies, they spilled from the house and played among the magnolia trees.

It was raining that Saturday morning. The children had to play inside. It was Jeffrey who suggested hide and seek in the attic. The cavernous, dusty attic was ideal for the five children. Martha was ‘it.’ She sat on the stairs and counted as the others hid. Ezra found the steamer trunk and opened it, inside was more than enough room for him to hide and he would even burrow under the clothes in case his ‘cousin’ opened the lid. Climbing inside, he carefully lowered the lid.

Martha found Millicent and James. She searched thru an old wardrobe and behind several boxes before she spied the trunk. Lifting the lid, she saw only old clothes and let the lid fall before moving on to the next hiding place. Ezra was proud that she hadn’t found him and waited for her to call ‘Ollie, Ollie, all in free’ to show she had given up. When she didn’t call after an appropriate amount of time had lapsed, he tried to open the lid. The hasp had fallen when Martha dropped the lid and it wouldn’t open. Ezra screamed and kicked at the lid until he succumbed to exhaustion.

It was hours later before his ‘uncle,’ searching thru the attic for the fourth time heard the feeble cries. Throwing open the lid, he was startled to find Ezra drenched in sweat. The boy had wet his pants and thrown up in his terror. His fingers were bloody from trying to claw his way out. Maude had been furious! Not with the family who was keeping him, but at Ezra for being the reason she was called away from her vacation early.

+ + + + + + +

After finishing a second glass of water, Ezra started back into the living room. He froze in the doorway, seeing a large, dark shape moving stealthily across the room. When the figure knelt over JD, Ezra’s fear ceased.

He had to make sure that the kid was all right. Buck was certain that he would be able to sleep if only he knew that JD was okay. The easy rhythm of the young man’s breathing was calming. The kid lay on his stomach with one arm under his head. His hair fell across his eyes and Buck couldn’t resist reaching out to brush it aside. The dark eyes opened immediately and JD’s head came up.

“Buck? Is something wrong?”

“No, kid. Sorry, I just couldn’t sleep and I wanted to apologize for scaring you earlier.”

“No problem, Buck, go back to bed,” JD turned over and went back to sleep.

After Buck had returned to his room, Ezra crept back to the couch.

The next few days were the same as the first, Buck refused to speak to Dr. Franklin and he continued to pace at night. Only Ezra and Vin were aware of the fact that Wilmington seemed abnormally preoccupied with concern over JD. The young agent was not even aware that Buck often stood over him for several minutes each night.

Dr. Franklin cleared the entire team, except Buck, to return to work with one restriction. She didn’t want any of them doing any undercover work and she would meet with them every other day to discuss any issues that they might be struggling with. Judge Travis agreed and put them back into the rotation. They were given mostly backup and investigative work.

With the others working again, Buck was alone during the day. Dr. Franklin arrived the first day, about 30 minutes after the others had gone. Glaring angrily at the woman, he decided to ignore her. She didn’t seem to mind. She unobtrusively seated herself in a corner of the room and remained silent. His only concession to her was to make enough food at lunch for the two of them to share. Around five in the evening, she slipped on her loafers and left the ranch.

When Chris arrived at the door alone, Buck was upset. He didn’t say anything at first but his shoulders and breathing announced his feelings clearly. The two men ate while Chris briefed him on what they had been doing all day. Finally, the dam broke and Buck began to yell.

“Why in the Hell didn’t you bring JD back with you? How can you leave him all by himself? You won’t even let me stay at my place! I’m a grown man, you can’t keep me here!”

Hazel eyes locked on incensed blue ones until Buck looked away. Dragging his hand thru his hair, the ladies man sighed and began to pace. The fact that Chris hadn’t said anything was burning him up inside.

“I’m not forcing you to stay, Buck. If you want to go back to your place, get your bag and I’ll drop you off,” Chris said finally.

The drive to the apartment was made in silence. Neither man spoke, although both wanted to. Chris stopped in front of the building and let Buck out. The lights were on in the cess pit and JD’s Mustang was in its parking place next to Buck’s truck that Josiah had driven home earlier in the week. He waited until Buck was in the building before leaving. Chris hoped that JD could handle it.

+ + + + + + +

The stereo was playing softly in the background as Casey worked her was down JD’s bare chest toward his navel. She had been thrilled when he picked her up that afternoon. Packing a quick change of clothes, she’d jumped at the chance to be alone with JD after the past couple of weeks. Passing by his sensitive navel, she unbuttoned his jeans as he stroked her hip with the insole of one foot.

The amorous couple was unaware that the stereo had been clicked off but when the door flew open, all hell broke loose. Casey gave a startled yelp as she was dumped on the floor and JD grabbed for the gun that lay on the nightstand. Buck leapt out of the doorway and plastered himself against the wall, his heart racing.

“JD? Calm down! It’s just me,” Wilmington yelled between gasps for air.

“Buck? WHAT IN THE HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE?” The young agent yelled as he slammed the gun on the bed and buttoned his jeans. Casey was trying to turn her shirt right side out with shaking hands. JD slammed his feet on the floor and stormed out of the room.

“I’m sorry kid! I shoulda knocked. Chris dropped me off and I was pissed and …”

As the older man’s voice trailed off, he realized that he had interrupted the young couple. JD’s hair was mussed and there were several recent ‘love bites’ on his chest and stomach.

“Ah, hell,” Buck exclaimed as he turned away. His eyes fell on his car keys and he snatched them up and left the apartment. He ran down the steps and across the parking lot to the truck. Without thinking, he headed for J. Watson’s.

JD’s shoulders were still heaving as he heard the truck’s engine gunned and the squall of the tires as it pulled out. Casey slid an arm around his waist as she pressed her cheek against his shoulder blade. As the shock of the situation wore off, JD panicked. He crossed the living room and snatched up the cordless phone.

“Chris? What’s going on? Buck just burst in on Casey and me and then he took off in a huff. I don’t know where he was going.”

“DAMN!” Chris yelled as the cell phone slipped from his shoulder as he slammed on the brakes and spun the black Dodge around on the deserted road. He fished the phone out of the floor and yelled at JD.

“I’ll start looking for him. You call the rest of the guys.”

It took longer than it should have to find Buck. By the time Chris got there, his friend had thrown back several shots and Inez was watching him nervously from the bar. Josiah and Ezra stood out of Buck’s line of sight, conferring in a corner. Chris tossed his head toward the door and they slipped out. He caught Inez’ eye and pointed toward the coffee pot. Sliding into the booth, he quietly appraised his oldest friend.

“Want to tell me about it?”


“Okay, then give me the keys.”

“Go to Hell.”

“Been there, done that, took you with me,” Chris said to try to lighten the mood.

“I remember,” Buck replied acidly as he glared at the coffee Inez placed on the table. He caught her wrist and pointed to the empty whiskey glass. When the barmaid looked to Chris for confirmation, Buck exploded.

“You don’t need his permission to get me a drink! I’m over 21 and paying my own way!”

As Inez shrank from the outburst, Chris slid out of the booth. Buck jumped to his feet and snatched his wallet from his pocket. Throwing a couple of bills on the table, he stormed out. Chris paused long enough to make sure that Inez was all right before he raced to the door. He only just caught Buck as he was opening the door of his truck. He was unprepared for the right hook that threw him against the van parked next to the truck. Before he could put up his hands to defend himself, Buck hit him again, knocking him out.

The candy apple red Chevy threw gravel as it sped off of the lot. The crowd that had gathered at the door rushed out to pick the blonde up from the ground. Rubbing his jaw and spitting out blood, Chris shook off the helpful hands and started to his truck.

Without his headlights, Buck followed the painted lines on the small blacktop road. Parking the truck behind the building, he made his way into the bar. Set on the side of the mountain, the room had an expansive view of the sparkling city of Denver. Spotting a table near the window, he worked thru the crowd and eased into the chair. A pretty waitress took his order and a print of his credit card when he asked to run a tab. She set the pitcher on the table along with a basket of nacho chips and cheese.

Chris debated calling the guys and setting them out after Buck again but he decided to handle it himself since he had blown it at the saloon. He made the rounds of all the places the two of them had frequented during their days with the DPD. It was nearing closing time and he still had not spotted the red Chevy.

The pitcher was empty and the glass with the last double shot sat untouched on the table. The waitress came by and handed him the credit card slip. He signed the line he could barely see and dropped a twenty on the table. He swayed unsteadily on his feet as he fished for his keys.

“Let me call you a cab,” the waitress suggested.

Thru the kaleidoscope that passed for his field of vision, he smiled at the woman.

“Just tell him to come get me,” Buck said as he pushed the cell phone into her hand after hitting the speed dial for Chris’s cell phone.

“Buck? Where in the Hell are you? You’d better not be driving,” Chris started angrily.

“He’s not driving. He asked me to tell you to come and get him. He’s at the Tip Top on …”

“I know where it is. I’ll be there in five minutes!” Chris yelled into the phone as he turned around in an empty parking lot.

+ + + + + + +

The motion on the other side of the bed woke Casey and she reached for JD. It had taken quite a while for him to calm down after Chris called and said that he had found Buck. The romantic mood had soured and she had settled for cuddling with him when he had finally calmed enough to let her hold him. JD was thrashing under his side of the comforter and crying softly.

“JD? What is it? Wake up,” she whispered as she drew the hair back from his ear. He opened his eyes and lay panting for a couple of minutes before he rolled over and wrapped his arms around her. Warm tears moistened the tee shirt she was wearing as he cried softly.

+ + + + + + +

The dream was about his mom dying. He had the same dream several times a year and it always left him with the profound feeling of sadness. This time he had dreamed that it was Buck that had died. It was the same dream that he had been wakened from the past few nights. It wasn’t a violent dream, just a funeral that left him feeling empty and depressed.

+ + + + + + +

Death would have been preferable to the agony he was feeling, he was sure of it. The blind had been raised and the curtains opened so that the bright morning sun pierced his aching head with steel-tipped javelins of pain. Pulling the pillow over his face, he caught the smell of stale cigarettes. His stomach rebelled at the scent and he barely made it to the toilet in time.

Taped to the mirror was a note. ‘Dr. Franklin will not be here today. Get some rest. Call me when you wake up. Chris.’ After brushing his teeth and taking a long, hot shower, he sat in the recliner and made a phone call.


“I’m sorry.”

“I know. It’s all right. You been sick?”

“Yeah, feels like World War III inside my head right now.”

“You made your bed, you lie in it” Chris began.

“Yeah. JD okay?”

“He’s fine. Worried about you, but fine, he’s with Josiah.”

“I gotta apologize to him and to Casey. I screwed up big time.”

“Welcome to the human race. I’ll see you tonight. Go back to bed.”

For the rest of the week Buck was docile and compliant. He still refused to talk to the doctor about what had happened but he did talk to her about other things. When she didn’t pry or ask more questions, he became a little more comfortable with her.

Chris sat across the table from Dr. Franklin as she read over her notes. It had been a full week since the team, minus Buck, had returned to work. She was still seeing the others on an individual basis and was going to go over her report that she was preparing for Judge Travis.

“The team seems to be recovering well with the exception of Agent Wilmington. He continues to refuse to discuss the situation. He is also exhibiting signs of depression and an ever-increasing anxiety for his young roommate. As long as he continues to exhibit the signs of PTSD, I cannot recommend that he be re-certified to carry a weapon or to return to light duty. Until we find the catalyst that will allow him to discuss the trauma, he is a danger to himself and others.”

“What about the others?” Chris asked, wanting to know what she was going to tell Travis about the rest of the team.

“Agents Larabee, Standish, Jackson, Sanchez, Tanner and Dunne are showing healthy responses and are dealing well with the situation. Although it has reawakened some old fears in Standish, Tanner and Dunne, the three young men are working thru their fears.”

“And you can’t tell me what’s bothering them?”

“I’m sorry. I can only tell you that it’s nothing that I feel will endanger their lives. They are making significant progress. I wish I could be more positive about Buck.”

+ + + + + + +

The team got together for the weekend at the ranch. The youngest were up early, saddling the horses for the day-long trail ride they had planned. By the time they had everything ready, Ezra and Nathan were putting breakfast on the table while Josiah and Chris were building sandwiches for lunch. JD scanned the room before announcing that he would go and wake Buck.

Getting no response when he knocked, JD let himself into the bedroom. Buck was sprawled out on his stomach. As he had done dozens of times at home, JD crept onto the bed and moved toward Buck. The only other person who knew about Buck’s ticklish spot, aside from his women friends, was Chris. Balancing on his knees and one hand, JD reached for the exposed hip.

From some deep place in his memory, Buck felt the weight on the mattress and remembered what had come after. His eyes popped open and he lashed out at the hand resting on the edge of the mattress. Losing his balance, JD landed across Buck. The next thing the young agent knew, he was on his back on the floor staring up the barrel of Buck’s gun.

“Buck?” JD squeaked softly.

With his heart hammering in his throat, Buck shuddered. He watched as JD’s face ran the gamut of emotions and his dark eyes filled with tears. Sighing expressively, Buck shoved the gun back under the pillow and eased his weight off of JD’s hips. Grabbing the kid by the arm, he jerked him to his feet and embraced him.

“Oh God, JD, I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! You startled me and I remembered …”

“What? You remembered what?” JD asked.

“When they took me from the apartment, one guy landed on me and gagged me. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, you better get ready to go. Ezra and Nathan are making breakfast. If you don’t get in gear there won’t be anything left.”

“JD? Don’t say anything about this to Chris, please?”

Nodding, JD left the room and pulled the door closed behind him. He stood for a few minutes trying to will his knees to stop shaking. He made up his mind to see if Casey was still interested in moving in together. He wasn’t sure he could stay with Buck.

“Hey kid! You better get down here before I eat it all!” Vin called from the kitchen doorway.

“Better not! You know how I get on an empty stomach,” JD yelled back as he hurried to get some breakfast.

+ + + + + + +

If anyone noticed that JD was distancing himself from Buck, they didn’t comment on it. The group rode out from the ranch and up the mountain. The sun was warm and there was only a hint of a breeze. The horses were in high spirits and frequently stopped to munch on fresh fodder. Vin drew his harmonica and began to play. The soft notes floated across the open fields.

In spite of the fact that he should have been wide awake, Buck was dozing lightly in the saddle. He almost expected to see a stagecoach when they crested the ridge and looked down on the old logging road. Vin’s tan shirt resembled the hide coat from the dreams. The pattern of the blanket behind Josiah’s saddle reminded him of the serape the profiler had worn in the old west dream. From behind, Ezra’s red shirt looked just like the wool jacket the gambler had worn.

From his position slightly to the left of Buck, Nathan could see that he was drenched in sweat. The dark blue eyes darted around as if he expected to be ambushed at any moment. His hands were clenched on the reins and his knees were so tight on the saddle that Nathan could hear the leather creaking softly. The tight set of Buck’s shoulders made the medic wince in sympathy.

The grass was nearly knee high on the horses as they rode thru the little valley. Vin froze as he pointed out the small herd of deer at the edge of the clearing. The small group of does and their offspring were wary of the men and horses. When the wind shifted, carrying the scent of the men toward the animals, they turned tail and ran. Vin rode over and dismounted to examine the area. JD joined him as they studied the tracks and the signs that the fawns had been laying down in the sun. Buck walked over leading Ghost, as he knelt down to examine the marks, he jostled JD. Vin pretended not to notice the fear that crossed the kid’s face as he laid the tall grass back to show off the tracks.

Stopping at the river, the group decided to have lunch. Josiah noticed that JD wasn’t his usual, jovial self and sat next to the young agent. He didn’t ask any questions, just sat and watched as the kid toyed with his sandwich. Every so often, JD would glance across to where Buck sat. Each glance was followed by a heavy sigh.

“Do you want to talk about it, JD?” Josiah asked softly.

“No.” The response was barely audible as JD watched Nathan move up behind Buck.

The moment the dark hands lit on his shoulders, Buck sprang to his feet. Whirling around, he glared at Nathan before storming toward a nearby copse of trees to take a leak.

“What was that about?” Chris asked after catching Nathan’s eye.

“I don’t know, but he’s wound way too tight.”

Buck returned from the trees and dropped next to Chris. He sighed as he studied the group of his friends. JD was sitting with Josiah. Vin was showing Ezra something along the side of the creek. Nathan was putting something into his saddlebag.

“How are you doing, Buck?” Chris inquired softly. He avoided meeting the dark gaze.

“I’ll be fine as soon as I can get back to work! Can’t you talk to Travis and get him to let me go back to work? Even if it’s just light duty, I’m going crazy sitting home alone everyday!”

“Talk to Dr. Franklin!” Hearing the disgusted sigh, Chris raised his voice and let his anger show thru. “That’s what’s holding you back! Buck, you have to talk to her sooner or later of they’re going to put you on long term disability! You need to talk about it!”

There was no point in continuing to speak as Buck had gotten up and was mounting Ghost. He jerked the big gray horse around and kicked him hard to spur him back toward the ranch. Nathan mounted his own horse and took out after the fleeing rider. The others slowly returned to their mounts and started back.

Responding to the terror that was building in his chest, Buck kicked Ghost and yanked him around at the same time. His faithful mount's response was so swift, that Buck was caught off balance and was almost unseated. Turning the horse off of the path, Buck chose a more direct, if steeper path to the barn. Nathan’s horse made the mistake of trying to follow Ghost. A damp bundle of leaves proved to be the undoing of man and beast. Hippocrates’ front feet started to slide and the horse tried to pivot. Unable to keep his balance, Nathan was unseated and slammed into the ground. The horse crashed into a tree and instantly began to limp on his hind leg.

The rest of the team came up the trail just as Hippo was limping out of the bushes. Chris slid off of Diablo and picked his way down the hill to where Nathan was standing as he tested the stability of his limbs. He threw a grateful smile to Chris as he was helped up to the trail. Josiah and Vin were checking the horse to see if he had suffered any permanent injury. JD was shifting irritably on his saddle because he couldn’t see around Ezra and Chaucer.

“Do you want me to ride down after him, Chris?” Vin asked.

“No, we have to tend to Nathan and Hippo before I worry about him,” the team leader yelled angrily.

After some rearranging of riders, JD riding double with Ezra while Nathan rode Diablo. Chris rode on JD’s Tigger while Vin and Peso led Hippo back at a slower pace. When they reached the ranch, Ghost was in the corral, still saddled and the Dodge was gone.

A throb set up in Chris’s jaw as he considered what to do. He was about half tempted to report the vehicle stolen but a little voice reminded him of a time when he had, in a drunken rage, taken Buck’s beloved red Chevy. Borrowing the keys to the Suburban, he headed for the local bar.

+ + + + + + +

Buck had every intention of tending to Ghost when they reached the ranch but the sight of the saddle left him feeling weak in the knees. The flashback left him shaking and clinging to the barn door. He needed to numb the terror that was welling up inside. Knowing that Chris kept an extra set of keys to the truck in the tack room, he had left the horse in the corral and set off for town.

The bartender smiled when the big ATF agent appeared. Buck Wilmington was good for business. That he showed up on ladies night was providence. With dollar signs dancing in his eyes, he didn’t notice the glazed look in Buck’s eyes as he served up the first of many drinks that night.

Buck had a pretty good buzz going when Chris slid into the stool next to him. Without looking over, the ladies man knew Chris was PISSED. The rage rolled off of the blonde man in waves. Pouring himself another drink from the half empty bottle of Jack Daniels, Buck tossed it back. The liquor didn’t even burn anymore, as his mouth and throat were already numb.

“I ought to knock you on your ass, Buck,” Chris growled angrily.

“I’d like to see you try,” came the slurred response.

“Give me the keys,” the blonde demanded.

Without looking up from his drink, Buck dug in his pocket and slammed the key ring on the bar. Peeling a twenty out of his wallet, Chris slid it to the bartender.

“Pour him into a cab and send him back to the ranch, Joe,” he said evenly before leaving.

“And another thing,” Chris growled at Buck, “don’t you EVER leave that horse lathered up in his tack in the corral. You can abuse yourself but you will NOT abuse that intelligent animal!” With a final shove, Chris left the bar.

It was a long afternoon at the ranch. Vin was angry that Chris hadn’t brought Buck back with him. JD was pulled so far into himself that he only answered questions with a nod or shake of his head. Nathan took a hot shower and went to lie down for a while. Josiah and Ezra were tending to the horses.

Not even the considerable charms of the ladies could get Buck’s mind out of the deep depression that was growing in his chest. After an hour of line dances, Buck slipped out of the bar unnoticed. He walked two miles down the blacktop to another bar. Changing a five for a handful of quarters, he fed the jukebox. Flagging a waitress, he ordered himself a pitcher of beer and an order of chili cheese fries. By the time the bar was closing, he was the only one there aside from the bartender. Joe had called from up the road as soon as he realized that the ATF agent had gotten away. He made arrangements for a cab to be called to get Buck back to the ranch.

At the ranch, only JD managed to get any sleep. Ezra had a poker game going in the kitchen while the young agent slept on the couch. The kid began to dream about what happened that morning. His eyes darted quickly behind his eyelids as he thrashed under the light blanket Josiah had draped over him. The scene replayed in his mind. He saw himself reaching out to tickle Buck. He felt himself flying thru the air and landing on the floor. Twisting around on the couch, JD whimpered slightly as the final moments of the dream played out. He saw the muzzle of the gun, impossibly large when viewed from the perspective, and beyond that he saw Buck’s finger tighten on the trigger.

“Buck! No!” JD screamed as he fell off of the couch. Nathan toppled out of the recliner and crawled over to where the young agent was frantically looking for the bullet wound he was sure he now had.

Shaking the kid awake, Nathan tipped his face up gently.

“What is it JD? What happened?”

For an instant, JD almost blurted it out. He almost told Nathan how close Buck had come to killing him that morning. Blinking away the confusion, JD shook his head and looked away.

“I don’t remember. It was just a dream. I’m sorry I bothered everyone again.”

“JD, it’s not a bother. We’re all worried about him,” Nathan said as he stared intently into the younger man’s eyes.

Just then a car door slammed and Vin ran to the front door. Buck staggered in, looking like ten miles of rough road. He blinked at the brightness of the room. Chris drew his breath as he prepared to yell but was stopped when JD launched himself at his roommate.

“Are you out of your mind, Buck? Do you know how stupid it is to go out like that and not tell us where you’re going? It’s a good thing Chris took the truck or you’d have been driving home drunk! And you left Ghost in the corral! You didn’t even check to see if there was any water in the trough! You left Nathan after he fell off of Hippo and didn’t even go back to see if he was okay! You’re being just plain irresponsible, Buck! JUST PLAIN IRRESPONSIBLE!”

For several moments, no one spoke. JD stood before Buck with his shoulders rising and falling with every angry breath. The young man’s hands clenched and unclenched at his sides as if he would actually hit his roommate and best friend.

A wave of guilt washed over Buck as he stared at the angry young man. He reached for JD only to see the kid back away from his outstretched hand. Before he could take a step toward the retreating figure, his stomach began to rebel. Recognizing the ‘gonna hurl’ look, Chris hustled Buck into the bathroom. While Buck was ‘worshipping the porcelain idol,’ Chris went to check on JD. He need not have worried, the rest of the team was encircling the young man in a group hug.

It was a half hour before Buck could raise his head without having dry heaves. When the bathroom became silent, Chris opened the door. Buck was sitting on the floor with his long legs splayed out on either side of the commode, he was drenched in sweat and trembling. Leaning past the drunken soul, Chris turned on the shower before lowering the seat and lid on the toilet to sit down. He reached out and began to unbutton the flannel shirt.

After manhandling Buck into the shower, Chris went to get him something to wear. He was mildly surprised to find the three younger men still sitting in the living room, wide awake. JD looked as if he’d been crying and both Vin and Ezra were trying to comfort him. He decided to deal with them after he had Buck secured and went up the stairs in search of clothes.

Unable to stand while the water sprayed down on him, Buck was sitting in the tub while the cold shower water rained down on his stomach and thighs. He could still see the look on JD’s face as he’d stood bawling him out earlier. ‘I deserved that. I screwed up,’ he told himself. As the tears flowed from his eyes, he reached for the washcloth Chris had dropped on the ledge of the tub.

The only thing worse than a happy, drunken Buck Wilmington was a miserable, drunken Buck Wilmington; Chris decided. Helping Buck out of the shower, Chris had been forced to endure the tears and apologies. Buck allowed Chris to guide him to the guestroom but refused to lie down until he spoke to JD. No matter how many times Chris tried to tell him that JD had, finally, fallen asleep. Buck would not rest until he talked to the kid.

“You stay right there and I’ll go get JD. You hear me, Buck? STAY!”

Slipping back down the steps, he approached the sleeping form. JD was curled up with his head on Ezra’s lap and his legs across Vin’s lap. They looked so comfortable that he hated to wake them! To prevent a repeat of the other night, Chris wakened Vin first and warned him that he was going to waken JD. Seeing the Texan was prepared to protect himself, he gently tapped JD.

“JD? Come on, son, wake up for a minute. JD? Buck wants to talk to you, he won’t go to sleep until he does. Will you come up and talk to him, please?”

With the forgiving spirit that only JD seemed to possess in abundance, the young man rubbed his sleepy eyes and ascended the steps. He paused at the door and stopped. Turning to Chris he took a deep breath.

“Will you go in and get his gun first? He has it under the pillow on the far side of the bed.”

Chris didn’t question the request, that could wait until morning, he just nodded and slipped into the room. Walking around the bed, he lifted the pillow and picked up the Glock and shoved it in the back of his jeans.

“What are you doing? Is JD coming? Is he still mad at me?”

The pleading, plaintive tone of Buck’s voice was heart rending and Chris almost felt sorry for him. Almost, but not quite. He patted Buck on the shoulder.

“He’s coming right in. Don’t keep him up all night, he has to work tomorrow,” Chris warned.

Opening the door, Chris questioned JD with his eyes.

“Did you get it?”

“Yeah, are you all right?”

“I’ll be okay, Chris.”

“Need me to stay?”

“Nah, you go on to bed. It’s been a long day,” JD said around a huge yawn.

Chris stood in the doorway for a minute and watched. It was obvious that the kid cared for Buck in the way he went right to the bed and knelt down next to Buck. Closing the door, Chris headed for his own room. Only when he felt the gun at his back did he remember to wonder why Buck would have it with him and why JD knew he had it.

“JD, I’m sorry kid. I screwed up and now you’re mad at me. I’m sorry, JD.”

“It’s okay, Buck. Just lie down and get some sleep. I’ll remind you of this when I screw up the next time, okay? Come on, let’s get you tucked in,” JD coaxed as he pulled the quilt back.

“Will you stay here with me?” Buck asked in a pleading tone. He clung to JD’s arm.

Relenting of his anger, JD smiled.

“Move over. But just you remember, if you touch me, I aim to maim and you’ll be singing with the girls choir,” he cautioned.

Buck wiggled to the far side of the bed and waited for JD to lie down. When the kid’s breathing dropped off to a soft snore, Buck closed his eyes. It was the best night’s sleep he’d gotten since before the kidnapping.

When he opened his eyes in the morning, JD was gone but the men with the jackhammers had taken up residence in his head again. Stumbling around in the bedroom, Buck managed to straighten his bed and put on clean clothes. He went into a panic when he realized that his gun was missing. Reaching for the door to run downstairs and call Chris, he saw the note on the door.

‘We went to work for a few hours. Locked your gun in the safe. We will talk about it when I get home! Dr. Franklin will be there at noon, TALK TO HER!’

Ripping the note from the door, Buck felt panic rising. A quick look out the window showed Vin’s jeep sitting in the driveway. The jeep was a stick shift and Buck managed to get it rolling down the driveway and popped the clutch. The engine coughed and roared to life. Without a backward glance, he headed for a bar.

Chris was almost finished with his paperwork when the phone rang.

“Mr. Larabee, Dr. Franklin. I just wanted to let you know that Buck isn’t at the ranch. I’ve been all over the house and he’s nowhere to be found. All the horses appear to be in their stalls so I’m assuming he went for a walk. I’ll come back in a few hours and check on him.”

“Dr. Franklin, is there a jeep in the driveway?” Chris had a sinking feeling.

“No, there isn’t anything in the driveway right now.”

“Thanks, we’ll find him.” Slamming down the phone Chris began to yell. “DAMN, DAMN, DAMN IT ALL TO HELL! Vin, get in here!”

The sharpshooter, like the rest of the team, had bolted upright at the first shout. Vin now slid hesitantly from behind his desk and warily approached the door. The others scurried around to plaster themselves against the wall outside.

“Get your skinny Tanner ass in here!” Chris wailed.

“What’s wrong?”

“What’s your license plate number? Buck took the jeep and left the ranch.”

After reporting the car missing to the counties around the ranch, the team quickly finished their work and headed out to witness World War III.

+ + + + + + +

It was pleasantly quiet in the bar and Buck swirled the ice in his drink as he watched the waitress bustling about. The ‘lunch rush’ was on the place was about half full. She dashed past his table and set down the burger and fries he had ordered. The burger was slathered in barbeque sauce and the steak fries were hot and mildly seasoned. He smiled as he dug right in.

Hurricane Larabee was in rare form when he hit the ranch. He’d forgotten about the incident the night before with JD and the gun. As soon as they hit the living room, he turned on the youngest member of his team.

“Exactly what happened between you and Buck yesterday, JD?”

“What do you mean?” JD didn’t want to tell but he knew Chris wasn’t going to let it slide.

“I think you know what I’m talking about!” Chris growled as he pulled his gun out of his holster, ejected the clip and slammed it on the mantle. “What was the deal last night with the gun, JD? Did he say something or do something that made you think he might use it?”

“Yes, well no, I mean I don’t know!”

Chris took hold of JD so quickly that both Ezra and Vin gasped. Nathan and Josiah each grabbed one of the younger men and held them back. With a horrified fascination, they watched as JD crumbled. Chris’s expression softened and he relaxed the death grip he had on JD’s arms.

“JD, look at me. I have to know. Did he or didn’t he make you think he might use the gun? You can’t be worried about telling me. He could be in serious danger.”

“Not on himself, Chris. He drew on me yesterday,” JD whispered before twisting out of the leader’s grasp. He was ashamed that he could not control the tears that coursed down his cheeks.

“Good Lord!” Ezra exclaimed quietly.

“Damn!” Vin whispered.

“JD? Tell me what happened, son,” Chris coaxed as he placed a gently hand on the kid’s trembling shoulder.

“Yesterday morning when I went to wake him up,” JD began as he sniffled, “I was gonna tickle him like I do at home sometimes. I hadn’t even touched him when he threw me off the bed and landed on top of me. When I opened me eyes he, he had …” he couldn’t say it.

“JD? He what?” Chris goaded firmly.

“He had his gun in my face. His eyes were glowing almost! I honestly thought he was gonna kill me. I’ve never been so scared, Chris. I thought I knew him!”

Pulling the shaking man in close for a moment, Chris felt his gut tighten. Buck wasn’t suicidal but he might end up killing one of them in a flashback. He knew he had to find Buck and convince him to get help. When JD pushed himself away, the team leader reached into his pocket and removed the clip. Replacing it in the gun, he holstered the weapon and proceeded to pace. Josiah slipped up and pulled JD outside to give him a moment to pull himself together.

Looking at his watch, Buck was startled to see how long he had been sitting staring at the empty glass in his hand. Catching the waitress, he asked for the bill. It took him a couple of minutes to get the jeep turned around so he could start it down the incline and pop the clutch.

The sun was warm and it was soothing to feel the breeze blowing over him and Buck passed two or three other bars and taverns before pulling onto a slightly more crowded lot. The loud streams of country music wafted out along with the smell of steaks being grilled. With a broad smile, Buck swaggered inside and ordered a pitcher.

+ + + + + + +

Dr. Franklin arrived at the ranch after Chris called to say that JD needed to talk. She was still concerned that they had not found Buck, but the tone of the ATF agent’s voice told her that the rest of the team was in trouble. On impulse, she tossed her overnight bag into the Sidekick and headed for the ranch.

Leaving the others at the ranch, Chris and Vin set out in search of Buck. The Texan could almost hear the thoughts racing thru the blonde head. When the big Dodge began to fishtail wildly on the gravel driveway, he reached out and rested his hand on Chris’s shoulder.

“Take it easy, Chris. We’ll find him.”

“He nearly killed JD! Vin, I didn’t even think about the gun! After Sarah and Adam, when I hit rock bottom, I thought about my gun a lot. I should have thought to take it from him! If he’d hurt the kid …”

“Don’t beat yourself up over it. Buck’s strong, he’ll get thru this. We just have to convince him to accept help from his friends,” Vin stated calmly.

“You don’t know what it’s like. When all you can see is darkness and despair, it’s really hard to see the help being offered.”

“But you’ve been there, cowboy. You can bring him around.”

“When we find him. After I kick his stubborn ass!” Chris exclaimed.

Dr. Franklin knocked on the door and smiled when Ezra opened it. The undercover agent put on his best dimpled smile as he escorted her into the living room. After getting a brief rundown on what had happened the previous day, she went in search of JD. She found him in the barn. He was brushing the big gray gelding. She leaned against the stall gate, sure that he knew she was there. Finally, he looked up.

“I guess they told you,” he blurted out.

“I got the Readers Digest version. You want to tell me about it?”

Seeing the dark head shake ‘no,’ she slid back to the hay bale and sat down. For nearly an hour, she watched him tend to the animal. His hands moved lovingly over the horse as he brushed and smoothed the horse’s coat. When he moved to another stall, she remained silent. She knew from the nameplate on the stall that it was Nathan’s horse the young man was tending.

+ + + + + + +

The end of the cue stick seemed to split and wiggle the longer Buck stared down its length. When he finally took the shot, he scratched. The other man chuckled as he picked the white ball from the pocket and moved around the table. It didn’t matter anymore. Buck was just as happy when he lost as when he won. Throwing another mug of beer, he looked for the waitress.

The cell phone rang and Chris fumbled with it before surrendering it to Vin.

“They found Buck! He’s at some place called ‘The Watering Hole’ off of the highway. The sheriff wants to know if you want him arrested,” Vin relayed.

Chris took the phone, “Who is this? Kevin? Hey, do me a favor? Cuff him and dump him in a cell for a few hours. Hell yes, I’m serious. I appreciate it. Yeah, I’ll be there by then.”

Closing the phone, Chris dropped it into his pocket and pulled of the highway. Putting the truck in park, he rested his arms on the wheel while he counted slowly under his breath. When Vin cleared his throat, Chris fixed his gaze on the sharpshooter.

“Are you really gonna let them throw him in the drunk tank?”

“Can you think of a better way to get thru his hard head? It’s only a couple of hours. It’ll give him a chance to think. It’s what he needs!”

Deputy Kevin Schoenfeld and his partner Desmond Riley entered the bar and spoke briefly to the bartender. Within minutes, the entire corner of the room was cleared of spectators and possible innocent victims. Their quarry was just finishing his pitcher. Buck’s eyes were completely glazed over and his good-old-boy smile was beginning to soften.

“Agent Wilmington? Can you come with us please?” Kevin said firmly as he positioned himself in front of the big man. Desmond was standing quietly behind the booth, handcuffs in hand, waiting for Buck to stand.

Smokey the Bear was standing at his table! Buck blinked at the man with the thin leather strap that ran across his chest from his shoulder to his opposite hip. The rounded hat with the wide brim cast a shadow across the face. Someone moved his empty pitcher and Buck came to his feet in protest.

“Now wait just a minute there Dudley Do-right, I wasn’t finished with that!” Buck protested loudly. He swayed slightly as his hip struck the corner of the table.

He never saw the man who grabbed him from behind and slapped a cuff of his right wrist. As Buck tried to turn on his attacker, Kevin shoved him against the table and they forced the other wrist into the open handcuff. When he realized that he could not get free, Buck collapsed.

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